Kyoto has long moved to its own rhythm. There is Tokyo, with its fast-paced neon urbanism and gleaming skyscrapers. There is Osaka, with its down-to-earth exuberance and appetite for entertainment.

And then there’s Kyoto. The imperial capital for more than a millennium and the default birthplace of several traditional Japanese artforms – from ikebana flower arranging to tea ceremonies – it’s perhaps little surprise that Kyoto is serene and refined in equal measure.

[On your marks, get set, Tokyo!]

For many, simply hearing Kyoto’s name evokes instant images of geishas and ancient temples, Zen gardens and puffs of cherry blossom, kimonos and wabi sabi teacups.

And quite right too. The city is still home to some 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines (it was spared the wartime bombing). It is also famed for age-old craftsmanship – producing everything from textiles to tea tins.

Yet Kyoto also thrives on innovation and cutting-edge modernity. Visitors often discover this the moment they arrive – as they lug suitcases off a hi-tech white-nosed bullet train and find themselves in a futuristic station, and very 21st-century crowds.

It’s precisely this delicate balance – between old and new, heritage and innovation, tradition and modernity – that makes a visit to Kyoto as unique as it is memorable.

Make sure you....

Take a meditative stroll along the tree-lined Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no michi) – a 1.9km-long canalside walk, off which many temples and shrines can be explored.

Enjoy old Kyoto...

Among the many temples, 1,200-year-old Kiyomizudera is often a highlight. Follow the crowds up a hill to reach the temple, then admire the wooden architecture and breathtaking views (it’s under scaffolding for pre-Olympics renovations but still worth it (kiyomizudera.or.jp/).

Pause to reflect in....

The small but perfectly formed Ryogen-in temple, home to five exquisitely serene Zen gardens. These are often uncrowded, a precious rarity in Kyoto (kyoto-kankou.or.jp).

For a touch of the new...

Kyoto International Manga Museum offers the perfect antidote to temple fatigue, with the world’s largest collection of manga comics (kyotomm.jp).

Don’t forget to...

Have a cup of tea: stop by the tea specialists Ippudo – dating back three centuries – for a crash course in all things tea in Kaboku Tearoom before picking up a signature turquoise and orange tin of tea to take home (ippodo-tea.co.jp).

Learn how to...

Make traditional Kyoto incense at Yamada-Matsu, a 250-year-old family-run business a short walk from the Imperial Palace. It offers an array of meditative classes relating to kodo – the art of Japanese incense – including scented sachet- making classes suitable for children (yamadamatsu.co.jp/en).

Shop for...

Tea tins at Kaikado (kaikado.jp), which dates back to 1875 and creates products mixing Kyoto craftsmanship with a modern edge. They have a stylish cafe around the corner. You can also buy Japanese clothes with a playful modern twist at Sou Sou, famed for their bold prints and Kyoto textiles (sousou.co.jp). Karakami paper, crafted by artisan Ko Kado, makes a perfect gift or souvenir. Stop by his shop, Kamisoe, in the Nishijin district (kamisoe.com).

Look out for...

Beautiful traditional Geisha (not to be confused with tourists in rental outfits). Head to the Gion district for a taste of Kyoto geisha culture, with its network of cobbled lanes and discreet tea-houses.

Eat at...

Muromachi Wakuden for exquisite Kyoto food with a focus on the seasons. Book a counter seat for a culinary performance.

(wakuden.jp)

The Sunday Telegraph